North Korea, China, India, and any country associated with September 11, 2001. These places typically come to mind when we think about significant costs for following Jesus.
Surprising Nation On The World Watch List
One nation that is surprisingly high on Open Doors’ World Watch List is Mexico. Netflix in recent years has chronicled stories of famous drug cartels and leaders. These shows romanticize these drugs cartels as being for the people. But as Open Doors exposes, in reality, drug cartels and organized crime caused great suffering in Mexico. They especially cause suffering for followers of Jesus.
For example, drug cartels are treading on the heels of churches in Mexico. They extended their gripping power beyond the northern states where, for many years, they have been harassing entire communities ruthlessly.
“Taxes” On Churches
A very common practice drug traffickers have implemented to control whole communities in the territories where they operate is a “tax” collection system. They use this to charge churches and businesses for the right to exist.
“It is a very common practice of such criminal organizations to charge churches or businesses for the right to remain open or to be allowed to organize a public meeting—similar to a public license—to collect a percentage of the proceeds of a business just like an income tax or to charge for protection. These “taxes” are commonly known as derecho de piso (floor right) or venta de protección (protection rackets),” explains Dennis Petri, the Open Doors Manager in Mexico.
Pastors who lead a church in the center of Cuernavaca interviewed with Open Doors. They explained that “charging this ‘tax’ to pastors and churches is now a common occurrence.” Their names are kept anonymous for safety reasons.
More often than not, the imposition of these unlawful charges by the drug cartels on churches and businesses goes unreported. As a result, this is the most common form of extortion in Mexico.
“This is a recurrent theme in most of the interviews I have conducted in recent years and by far the most significant threat on church life in Mexico,” says Dennis. “According to government officials, only 10% of the cases are formally brought to court. Most of the people I interviewed indicated that this is a massive phenomenon affecting virtually all churches, while many others appear too afraid to speak about it.”
Next to extortion, kidnapping for a ransom is another prevalent threat in Mexico. It is another income-generating activity carried out by criminal organizations. It not only affects churches but also businesses.
Going to Church – Risky and Dangerous
Also in the areas controlled by organized crime, attending church meetings can be particularly dangerous. Worshippers are at an increased risk of extortions and kidnappings. Followers of Jesus are also at risk of violent and often deadly attacks. In addition, this risk is prevalent in those churches where drug cartels have placed severe restrictions on the right to congregate.
“Church services are not allowed in certain areas.” Dennis comments, “And there are reports of churches that have been closed by order of drug cartels. Moreover, there are reports of individuals who are prohibited from attending church services or have the obligation to report to the drug cartels whenever they visit a particular church.”
Threats and violence against Christians and other communities in Mexico also come from self-defense groups or vigilantes. These are groups of armed men now fighting the drug cartels. For example, an Evangelical Christian shared his testimony. Members of one of these groups in his home state of Michoacán threatened him. “In Michoacán, we see these groups of armed men, most of whom were drug dealers before, now fighting the drug cartels. They recruit children and teenagers for their cause. On one occasion, they threw us out of our community using sticks and machetes. They threatened to kill me if I dared go back to my community,” he said.
Pastors Preach Under Threat
Not only do pastors in Mexico deal with the illegal charges but also the very real violent threats. Following Jesus means that they must risk it all.
“They are very well organized.” said a pastor who talked to Open Doors anonymously about the drug cartels. Continuing, he said “And they can follow your every move. One cannot go anywhere alone; protection is needed all the time.”
Another pastor who left his previous church for his safety and resettled somewhere else with his family said: “I am alive because I didn’t accept anything from them.”
“Speaking out against injustice—whether it is violence, drug consumption, drug trafficking or organized crime—and above all speaking publicly, from the pulpit or in another setting, is extremely dangerous and can result in many forms of intimidation by drug cartels, including beatings, attacks on houses of church leaders, or even killings,” explained Dennis.
Open Doors is on-the-ground in Mexico. Through the support of partners like you, their field workers bring hope. They bring urgent resources to the spiritual and material needs of followers of Jesus in the Mexican church. They without a doubt need this help.
Original article from Open Doors